Fraser Nelson

Westminster at its worst | 22 June 2009

Westminster at its worst | 22 June 2009
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So now we know the shortlist for Speaker - and it shows Westminster at its most vindictive, corrupt and spiteful. Exactly the same names you'd have expected before any of this expenses furore broke. I simply cannot now see how this race can be taken seriously. As far as I can work out, it has taken ten steps into farce.

1) Labour MPs realise Martin's early resignation gives them an unexpected chance to impose on Cameron someone whom the Tories won't like - they still have a majority, after all. After the election, they won't.

Bercow, who has been sending Christmas cards and flattering notes to Labour MPs for years in order to better his chances for this job, also works out that he can be carried by Labour MPs alone. This is his time! He makes noises about reform, which basically seem to be self-promotion pledging to plonk himself on every TV sofa in the land.

The reformers in the House of Commons (there are some) persuade the utterly scrupulous and unbiddable Frank Field to run.

4) Field, being an honest chap, doesn't go ahead because he isn't backed by Labour MPs and thinks the Speaker should have the trust of the whole House.

5) Bercow has no such scruples, and is delighted to be used by Labour to irritate Cameron. But the idea of a Tory still doesn't appeal to Brown, the most factional of all politicians.

Beckett is chucked out of the Cabinet, but agrees to go if Brown's thugs will promote her as Speaker. Beckett, of course, is a joke - she voted against reform last year, helped herself to our money with hanging baskets etc. Aged 66, she sees this as a retirement job - that suits the lazy MPs who don't want a Speaker trying to force them to work for a living. And it suits Brown who doesn't want any attempted challenges to what remains of his Government's authority. He wants to force through changes to the voting system, and doesn't want MPs getting in the way of it.

7) Beckett, for all her defects, is seen by the Tories as the best 'stop Bercow' candidate. She is, after all, being promoted by Brown's henchmen. Sure, they'd like George Young ideally, but even Beckett is better than the idea of Bercow's smarmy face smiling down at them from the Speaker's chair.

The MPs have the safety of a secret ballot to choose a Speaker for all the wrong reasons. No one will have to defend the choice they made in public! So their motives can be as impure as they like. Tories even threaten to throw out the new Speaker after the election if it is someone foisted on them by Labour MPs.

9) The Speaker election is then driven by factionalism, revenge, an 'up-yours' attitude not just to politcial enemies but the public as a whole.

When the reforming MPs are finally elected - about half the chamber will be renewed after the next election - they find themselves lumbered with a useless Speaker chosen by their predecessors whose venality and attitude disgraced British democracy so spectacularly.

Beckett is described as the "anti-reform" candidate - but that implies there is a pro-reform candidate.  John Bercow is not that man. He's not outraged by the abuse of expenses: he was going nowhere in the Tory party, thought about defecting to Labour (and Labour sources tell me they were confident he would have crossed the floor had David Davis become leader) and is offering himself to Labour MPs as an irritation to Cameron. Rather than be someone the House respects (like Betty Boothroyd), the Speaker will be the product of one of these games of spite and revenge that Westminster politicians love to play with each other. George Young and Alan Haselhurst would, in my view, chair debates better than the other candidates - but neither can give the Commons the reform it so badly needs.

I leave you with the verdict of Stephen Pound:

“I think it is potentially a fatal mistake. It is a depressing example of MPs looking inwards to their own advantage when we really should be looking outwards. This is great opportunity for us to present a new, fresh face for Parliament and a lot of it looks like the same old, stale corruption, I fear"

But when you ask poachers to choose a new gamekeeper, what do you expect?

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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